Forum Index > Trip Reports > High Divide traverse: Welcome Pass to Church Mt trail - 7/8/19
Previous :: Next Topic  
Author Message
TellimaChris
Member
Member


Joined: 02 Jun 2019
Posts: 5 | TRs
Location: Bellingham, Washington
TellimaChris
  Top

Member
PostWed Jul 10, 2019 7:20 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
I was always curious why the trail on High Divide north of Mt Baker doesnít extend west beyond Excelsior Pass and connect up with the Church Mt trail 4 miles to the west.  If it did that would enable a grand traverse of almost 10 miles of unbroken above treeline ridge-top rambling!  But for some reason Iíve never heard of anyone doing it or read any reports.. though I have scouted both ends of the route previously and figured it quite doable.  So I decided to give it a try.

To make this a proper loop I drove up to the Church Mt trailhead and parked my truck, where Iíll hopefully end my day.  Then I road my bike 2.5 miles and 1000í down the forest road to Mt Baker Highway, which I followed east 8 miles and 1400í UP to the welcome pass trailhead.  The road to the trailhead was steep so I stashed my bike in the woods and started walking up, my legs already a bit rubbery from the bike ride.  My pace to the pass was slow, both due to the aforementioned bike ride and also because the Welcome Pass trail is really steep, and relentless.  2700í in 2.3 miles.  Is there a steeper maintained trail in the North Cascades?

Once on the ridge though, the going was easy and the views expansive.  The trail meandered westward, through blueberry hillsides, wildflower meadows and the occasional patch of forest.  There were lots of clouds around, obscuring the upper reaches of the higher mountains like Shuksan and Baker, and increasingly over the top of High Divide as well.  Sun breaks were interrupted periodically by cold damp and breezy in-the-cloud spells.  The wildflowers were truly fantastic.

It's steeper than it looks
It's steeper than it looks
First view of High Divide
First view of High Divide
Mt Shuksan peaking through the clouds and wildflowers
Mt Shuksan peaking through the clouds and wildflowers
Mt Baker is in those clouds somewhere
Mt Baker is in those clouds somewhere

Five miles west towards Excelsior Pass traffic picked up, including some campers, likely from the newly repaired Canyon Creek Road and the Damfino Lake trailhead.  From here I continued west on the ridge via a use trail which remained fairly distinct for a mile or so up and down a few minor highpoints.  Soon however, I began to notice this part of the ridge was much rockier, and the ridge crest much narrower than the rolling meadows of the trailed eastern part.  When a particularly steep and cliffy knob rose above a narrow notch, the path which had taken me thusfar withered away as the casual ridge walkers were turned back.  Keeping to the ridgeline looked difficult, so I took a slight trail around the knob to the south, across an unnervingly loose and rocky meadow.  There wasnít really a trail anymore, I saw a lot more evidence of mountain goats than humans by this point.  I continued traversing on the sidehill hoping to intercept the next notch, which required some dicey moves on some really loose rock.  Continuing on, the ridge crest was more or less followed, which got a lot more forested and brushy.  Often I could find open meadows, but a lot was straight up bushwhaking.  There were occasional glimpses of something resembling a path, but they were always short lived.  Lots of goat tracks.

High Divide looking east
High Divide looking east
High Divide looking west
High Divide looking west
Crux of the divide.  I ended up going around to the south (left) of the knob
Crux of the divide.  I ended up going around to the south (left) of the knob
Looking back over the untrailed western part of the divide
Looking back over the untrailed western part of the divide

After several more ups and downs, one could see through the clouds the cliffs of the Church Mountain complex, where a mass of older volcanic rocks was thrust over the younger marine sedimentary rocks Iíve been traveling on all day.  The day was wearing on and I had already traveled 22 miles (12 on foot), and I was getting tired.  However, I couldnít help one small diversion into a lovely basin on the north side, the headwaters of Canyon Creek.  It was flat and expansive, with dramatic cliffs to the north, and definitely a place to visit again someday.

The final stretch, beyond that last ridge is Church meadows
The final stretch, beyond that last ridge is Church meadows
Headwaters of Canyon Creek
Headwaters of Canyon Creek
Finally, Church basin meadows!
Finally, Church basin meadows!

Up and over the divide and I was greeting by views of Church Basin, sunny and lush with high cliffs perched above.  Looking especially beatific here in the late afternoon sun.  But I still had to go down about 600í to the trail, which was no easy task.  The meadows were steep and slick, still wet from rains the day before, and I slipped and fell on my behind more than once.  A kind of controlled sliding on all fours was the optimal descent method for the steeper portions.  Then, finally, back on the trail!  I was exhausted but high on adrenaline from a challenge met and I half walked/half jogged the 2.5 miles back down to my truck.

It ended up being a total of 26 miles traveled, 16 of them on foot, in a little over 8 hours.

GPS track, 26 miles total
GPS track, 26 miles total
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Reply to topic Reply with quote
olderthanIusedtobe
Member
Member


Joined: 05 Sep 2011
Posts: 6261 | TRs
Location: Shoreline
olderthanIusedtobe
  Top

Member
PostWed Jul 10, 2019 8:51 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
That is really cool, thanks for the TR!  I was just up there last week.  I followed the boot track from Excelsior Pass toward Church Mtn. for maybe 1/2 mile.  I thought it might continue all the way, but as you found it doesn't.  On different outings I've followed High Divide from Excelsior Pass to Welcome Pass and also cruised along the ridge from Welcome Pass to the last knoll just above the Yellow Aster Butte lakes.  That's all nice terrain up there.
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks



Joined: 13 Feb 2007
Posts: 6505 | TRs
Location: Stuck in the middle
puzzlr
  Top

Mid Fork Rocks
PostWed Jul 10, 2019 8:56 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Beautiful shots. I like your way of trip planning -- "If it goes it will be awesome". Only one way to find out.

--------------
Mid Fork Rocks ē flickr
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
Eric Hansen
Member
Member


Joined: 23 Mar 2015
Posts: 312 | TRs
Location: Wisconsin
Eric Hansen
  Top

Member
PostWed Jul 10, 2019 9:15 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Thanks! Been up there several times and often contemplated a thru hike but thought the view headed east might be the better of the two options. Either way High Divide is two thumbs up. I've done most of the way from Welcome to Yellow Aster ponds. I posted once, scanning the map of Gold Run Pass to Low Pass as a way to continue eastbound. Someone described it as unappealing.
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
TellimaChris
Member
Member


Joined: 02 Jun 2019
Posts: 5 | TRs
Location: Bellingham, Washington
TellimaChris
  Top

Member
PostThu Jul 11, 2019 10:18 am 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
I've done that stretch east from Welcome Pass to the Yellow Aster tarns, Gold Run Pass, Low Pass, and Twin Lakes.  The headwall going up to Low Pass is steep but manageable, and the basin below is quite beautiful.  Other than that it's largely on trails, formal or otherwise.  The views definitely get better and the terrain more alpine as you head east.  Such a beautiful area!

Now that I know I can hook it up to Church Mt Trail, there's an even grander traverse to be done from Church all the way to Twin Lakes smile.gif  Probably have that be an overnight though..
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Reply to topic Reply with quote
Eric Hansen
Member
Member


Joined: 23 Mar 2015
Posts: 312 | TRs
Location: Wisconsin
Eric Hansen
  Top

Member
PostSat Jul 13, 2019 3:26 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Would be nice to do Tomyhoi along the way. Nice sleep spots at tree line there.

Is it possible to continue past Twin Lakes? Traverse Goat Mt., or too sketchy? Going east to Hannegan Peak/Pass could be nice but I remember some discussion of a crux near Mamie Pass. Memory has the tough spot as loose class 4, just east of the promontory east of Mamie Pass.
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
  Display:     All times are GMT - 8 Hours
Forum Index > Trip Reports > High Divide traverse: Welcome Pass to Church Mt trail - 7/8/19
  Happy Birthday gigamike, wheezer!
Jump to:   
Search this topic:

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum
   Use Disclaimer Powered by phpBB Privacy Policy